Inversions are generally taught near the end of a yoga class, although occasionally teachers will incorporate an inversion flow. Inversions help increase circulation to internal organs, balance the endocrine system, and temporarily reverse the effect of gravity pulling your body weight down through your legs. Inversions may also provide an overall sense of clarity and balance or have an energetic effect on the body. Headstand, handstand, and shoulderstand (Sirsasana, adho mukha svanasana and sarvangasana) are the three inversions that are referred to frequently in yoga classes, but are not the only options for inversions. There are a number of gentle inversion options that may be incorporated or used as substitutes for headstand, handstand, or shoulderstand.
Dead bug and legs up the wall are two gentle options that accomplish the goal of getting the legs above the head and offer release to the lower back. In dead bug, lie on the floor with knees bent and soles on the floor. On an inhale, float the legs and hands up so that the soles of the feet point to the ceiling and the arms are perpendicular to the floor with the palms facing each other. Although dead bug is gentle, it is still helpful to practice for a few minutes before going into this pose in order to stretch the groin muscles and hamstrings.
Legs up the wall is a perfect inversion if you are having a more stressful day and need a few moments to relax. Simply find an area of the wall that is clear of obstructions and lay on your side with your bottom and back of the legs touching the wall. Staying as close as possible to the wall, roll onto your back and swing your legs up onto the wall. A variation of legs up the wall is to place a block under the sacrum, this gets the pelvis above the heart.
Downward dog (Adho mukha svanasana) and standing forward bend (Uttanasana) are also inversions since both poses allow for the pelvis to be raised above the heart, stimulate circulation, and have a calming effect. Downward dog is a great rest or active pose and offers a number of variations that are easy to overlook.
Not all inversions are right for everyone or right for a person on every day. Additionally, if you are pregnant or suffer from spinal injury or certain eye conditions you need to speak with your doctor prior to practicing inversions. Absent injuries, some inversions may still not be ideal for your body proportions. It is best to respect any feelings of pain and substitute a different inversion; at least until a trusted yoga teacher can assist and guide you through the originally attempted inversion.